BEST MEMPHIS BURGER
FESTIVAL IS MARKING ITS 5TH BIRTHDAY, BIGGER AND BETTER, WITH THE PROCEEDS GOING TO THE DOGS.
About seven years ago, Seth Agranov was wet and cold, camping out at the Board of Education to register a child for school. A friend showed up to feed him, bringing a Colossus burger from the nowclosed 3 Angels Diner. It not only nourished his body and soothed his soul, but it also launched a hobby that turned into a festival that celebrates its fifth anniversary Sunday.
“That was the best burger, for so many reasons, and I knew right then I was going to start a blog,” Agranov said.
Back at work that Monday, he told co-worker Tim James.
“We eat lunch together all the time, so it made sense that we’d do this together,” Agranov said.
They bought the domain bestmemphisburger.com and started eating burgers, blogging about them and rating them on a five-star scale. After about a year, the idea for Best Memphis Burger Festival came to them — after they competed at the Southern Hot Wing Festival.
So Agranov tweeted. “He sent out a message that if you wanted to be involved with something new and exciting, to get in on the ground floor, show up for a meeting,” said Teddy Gorman, a volunteer who answered the call. “There were about 25 or so of us there at that first meeting, and about five or six left when the festival started.” Back to the hot wings: “We were with some friends and happened to be set up by Mrs. (Tawanda) Pirtle, and some of my friends were a little rowdy, but she was fun and took it all in good fun,” Agranov said.
“When we were looking for sponsors, I called her and asked her if she remembered me and sort of tried to apologize for my friends, but she was great. She asked how much we needed, and I told her we thought $2,500 to put it together. Within a few hours, she called back and said they were in for all of it. I couldn’t believe it.” Co-founder Tim James still thinks it’s funny. “We have other sponsors now, but they’re still our main one,” James said. “A chicken company sponsoring a burger festival.”
The first year, the festival was held in the parking lot of Minglewood Hall on a wet, chilly Sunday. There were 26 teams, a few food trucks here and there, and about 1,500 people showed up. After two more years in the parking lot, it was clear they had to move — more teams, more than double the number of people, more competitions — so last year they set up at Tiger Lane.
But it was in October, and the day was gray, cold and wet. Attendance was flat. This year, they moved the festival up to August, and they have tweaked things here and there.
“It’ s basically the same, but bigger,” James said. “We have about 40 teams and about 20 vendors — food trucks, beer stands and so on.”
There’s more music, they’ll have Pokestops inside Tiger Lane, 901Rocks have been farmed, and there’s a Snapchat filter you can put on your photos when you’re inside the geofence (roughly East Parkway to the west, the Liberty Bowl to the east, Central to the north and the Pipkin building to the south).
There will be also plenty of eating competitions, and the Kidzone is back.
Winners can qualify for an entry to the World Food Championship.
“It was crazy ,” Agranov said. “The first year, before we even started, someone called me to tell me that they sanctioned the event for World Food, and they gave us one ticket. This year we have three we can give out.”
The categories have changed a little. They did away with the Anything But and have added The Classic, which limits condiments to mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, pickle and onion. “Here it will be all about the blend of meat, the seasoning and the cheese,” Gorman said.
Other categories include The Specialty, Veggie Burger and the very popular Bloody Mary contest.
The team with the highest aggregate score (most compete in all categories) will be named grand champion of Best Memphis Burger 2016.
All the money, as it has every year, goes to animal rescue causes.
After the first year, Agranov and James founded Memphis Paws, a nonprofit they administer. They can give the money they collect to other rescue groups or pay it direct for veterinary care on a case-bycase review.
“We love dogs,” James said. “I know I can’t foster every dog in the world, but we knew we could help.”
“We f igured with the amount of money we would raise, well, it wouldn’t be that much to some other very worthwhile causes, but it could go a long way toward helping animals,” Agranov said. “We’ve donated more than $30,000 since we started.”
The amount of money raised depends mostly on attendance, though teams are encouraged to give away samples of food in exchange for small donations that they’ll turn over at the end of the day (and meat has been donated to the teams to help them offset the cost).
So how many people are expected this year?
“We’re hoping for 5,000,” Agranov said. “We’re praying for 10,000, and we’re terrified of 20,000. But wouldn’t that be great for the dogs?”
Competitors conspire to come up with entries that are eye-cathcing as well as tasty. The Best Memphis Burger Festival will be 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Tiger Lane. General admission tickets are $10 and funds raised go to animal rescue efforts.
Youngsters sink their teeth into the Kids’ Pickle Eating Contest, which is a tradition at the Best Memphis Burger Festival. The children’s event will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Jacob Samuels (from left), Marcus Moss, Adam Exelbierd, Andrew Magdovitz, Brad Jolly, Meredith Parker and Brian Bernatshy were at the 2015 Best Memphis Burger Festival.